Why do you always forget us? Why do you forsake us so long? Restore us to yourself, O LORD, that we may return; renew our days as of old unless you have utterly rejected us and are angry with us beyond measure. (Lamentations 5: 20-22)
This is how the book of Lamentations ends. Israel is in exile. Slavery and oppression reign. The authors did not know a guy named Ezekiel's book would begin on the following page. This was the end for them; this cry of lament and grief and bewilderment and doubt was their final cry...
In Phoenix, I need Lamentations 5. Our governor, Jan Brewer, has given her signature, the signature she has publicly admitted is influenced by our common Lord, to a piece of legislation the likes of which we have not seen in a generation, if not longer. If implemented, it will turn our state into an unrecognizable place. Our pain today is practically unbearable.
A group of families huddled at church in the wake of the pen stroke seeking answers and peace where our church leaders had little to offer in response but the hope and prayer that God is with us, seeing.
How do we trust that God is at work in the midst of this pain? Has he heard our prayers? A 24/7 prayer vigil at the state Capitol has kept watch since 7:00 a.m. on Monday. We were seven that morning, but that group has grown into the thousands. We have prayed. Like I have never prayed before, we have prayed Pentecostal kneeling prayers with shouts in Spanish and tongues in another holy language; we have prayed Catholic rosary recitations that calm the spirit and bring us closer to the contemplative corners of our hearts; we have prayed amidst youthful acoustic worship that sing praises to God's work and beauty; we have prayed liturgical calls and responses that unify our prayers into a spiritual collective; we have prayed spontaneous prayers calling for God to move. Has God heard us? Is God listening? Does God care?
I want eyes to see kingdom action that looks beyond my doubting. Where are you, God? Have you utterly rejected us? Why do you always forget us?
On Thursday, mass movements of students abandoned classrooms, instead taking a real-live civics course at the state Capitol. They were energetic yet anxious. Peace reigned. They returned on Friday, but they were doubled in number. Text messages came midday with reports from the governor's press conference. "She signed it." "She signed it?!" "She signed it." Kids started to become restless. Riot police moved closer. A water bottle was thrown. Youth started running toward the line of police. My heart sank...
Then I saw Hao. Chinese, he was born in Vietnam, lived there until he was 7 or 8 when he moved to Phoenix. Like me he has grown up in the barrio and is now president of a Latino fraternity at ASU. He was helping on the security team. Quickly he jumped in front of the line of police.
Then I saw Jose Luis. He too is a student at ASU and was on the security team. Growing up in the projects, he has every reason to be one of these angry students. And I mean every reason, if you catch my drift. Except he has been praying with us every night, even sleeping each night at the Capitol, something is different now. He jumped in front of the line of police too.
Then I saw our local city councilman. He grabbed another leader's arm and stood in front of the police. Then I saw the husband of our County Supervisor. He grabbed someone else's arm.
One of the pastors who prayed on his knees earlier that day with us jumped in; one-by-one the people prayers turned into sanctified participants and our collective prayer voice turned into a collective protective body. What we had been doing spiritually had changed us. We had become the Body of Christ, incarnate in the world set upon bringing peace and hope to our hurting, angry community. In other words, we were prayed up.
"Go back to the vigil! Continue to pray! This is not the end; this is just the beginning!" The students slowly returned. Nobody was hurt; nobody got arrested.
As I reflect on what God is doing in our city as you all watch us, in surprise, with questions, wondering what will become of us, you must hear about how God is at work answering our prayers. We have not been praying just for justice, though that is our drumbeat. We have also been praying for healing, for community and for reconciliation. Those prayers were answered in a way I have never experienced before.
But there is much work to do. Legal challenges are already underway and we are hopeful our court system will find this legislation unconstitutional and unacceptable. On Sunday, Representative Luis Gutierrez is coming and we will pray with him while he helps us get our story told on a larger stage. It seems this tumultuous time is not over and our Summer of Hope is just beginning.
This is not over! I say it again: this is not over! The Body of Christ is alive and well in Phoenix, Arizona. Take heart in knowing God has his people all over our city and we will continue to pray and our prayers will prevail.
Ian Danley is a youth pastor with Neighborhood Ministries in Phoenix, Arizona.